Visiting the Truku Headhunting Tribe
The small island country of Taiwan is riddled with a unique and rich history filled with culture, beauty and some incredibly friendly people. This may seem contrary given that the title references a head hunting tribe, but these people in particular are overwhelmingly kind.
As you can probably imagine, the Truku people no longer seek the decapitation of others; a coming of passage, where boys become men by bringing back the head of a rival tribe. (The women have a right of passage as well, where they must learn to weave baskets. Seems fair, right?) Instead, the Truku people in Sanjhan now focus on hunting, cultural preservation, and tourism where they act as river guides. It was for this very reason that we visited them this past weekend.
On Saturday, we were picked up from the train station by Agong, the tribal leader, and another guide Bisao. Agong is an incredibly jovial character who some may describe as portly, but he’s most easily identified by his red mouth from chewing beetle nut. Agong loves talking about his family, going hunting, and having a good drink with whomever will join him.
When we arrived at our homestay across from the village, Agong’s wife Hui-Ping was preparing a feast of salted fish freshly caught from the river, sweet potatoes, noodles, bamboo rice, freshly caught and cooked pork, a whole cooked chicken, and veggies. The spread was remarkable and we were thoroughly stuffed by the time we were finished.
After the feast, Bisao helped to teach us about the history of the Truku people. The Truku people’s experience over the years is astonishing as much as it is bloody. Anyone interested can check out the movie “Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale” to understand more. After hearing the tale, we were honored to don the traditional garb and tattoos of the Truku people and try our hand at some trapping, shooting, and archery.
When the activities began winding down, it was time to learn how to cook bamboo and banana rice. Both types of rice are incredibly fun to learn how to make and are exceptionally easy.
Bamboo rice starts by cutting a stalk of bamboo just behind one of the notches. Everyone was intrigued to learn that the bamboo isn’t entirely hollow, but rather each notch sections off the bamboo as it grows. Because of this, we were able to cut and clean out the bamboo before stuffing it with rice and water where it would later be steamed.
The banana rice is made by tearing off large banana leaves from the plants, and interestingly enough, burning them to make the fibers waxy and difficult to tear. This allows you to be able to wrap the rice/banana mixture inside.
While our creations were being cooked for dinner, we ventured into the village across the river to learn about more of the history of the Truku people. While inside the village, we were greeted by children, animals, and very eccentric villagers. We popped inside one of the houses for some KTV and drinks before heading back to our site before dark.
Before darkness enveloped our site, we set up our tents, nocked a few more arrows, and got ready for shrimp fishing. For the most effective shrimp fishing experience, we were given river tracing shoes, nets, containers, and headlamps. The shrimp were difficult to find as we had to look under rocks, beside the river, and watch for eyeshine, but we were rewarded with some very decent sized river shrimp. We brought our catch back to camp where they were placed in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar…live. Apparently they tasted pretty good.
After finishing our meal, we played a few fun games including some Bisao taught us and then headed for bed. We woke early to break down our tents, slip into our river tracing gear, and head to the beautiful Golden Grotto approximately five kilometers away.
The trip to our destination took about four hours time walking either through the river or along the bank. We stopped at a few locations for some cliff jumping including an old watchtower. Jumps along the way ranged from 5-10 meters.
Finally, when we arrived at our destination, everyone seemed to be in awe at the Grotto. The Golden Grotto is a cave filled with waterfalls that requires some skill with climbing and ropes to get up. Luckily we had some excellent guides and assistance. We were rewarded at the end with the tallest waterfall and a golden hue where the sun shines through the foliage into the cave. For lack of a better word, the place was breathtaking.
We couldn’t stay too long as a recent earthquake caused some rocks to become unstable. We took several photos, swam for a few more minutes, and made our way back to camp.
During the return trip, the conversation began to die down. Everyone was exhausted and we were ready to have dinner, shower and get on our train back to Taipei. While we waited for our train, Agong told us about myths and taboos of the village including what encountering certain animals means and what signs were lucky and unlucky.
The overall experience was something entirely unlike anything most people experience in Taiwan, or anywhere for that matter. The Truku people are unique, kind, and friendly despite their disposition. Over the years doing this trip, Agong has become a great friend and I am always happy to bring visitors to the area. I look forward to the next time we meet and I hope that more people can share this experience and preserve the culture and customs of the Truku people here in Sanjhan.
To book your own trip to Sanjhan to experience all these cultures and customs as well as trace to the Golden Grotto, find more information HERE